When I wanted to go straight out with comedy…and a mermaid romance. A long time ago.
Chapter One: Of Mermaids, Jumbo Shrimp, and Klingon Honor
For once, Jake was truly grateful for his graveyard shift at the aquarium. The day had been horrible as days can be for a kid with zits rivaling leprosy, but not legendary by any means. It wasn’t the first time he wanted to hole up somewhere dark and lonely.
First off, the day wasn’t suppose to end up this bad. He had had great plans for it centraling around his attempts to ask Sophia on a date, one of the most naturally beautiful girls in the school. In all honesty, he probably should have known she would have looked at his rose and note with disgust, but the hardest part was learning she wasn’t as kindhearted as he had thought her to be.
The story was summed up in one line.
“Yeah right, pizza face.”
Pizza face. What incredible genius came up with that name in the first place? It didn’t make them any cooler for calling a kid with his problems pizza face. Just made them into a complete jerk. Were most kids this stupid?
But still…he had believed so much that Sophia had been the exception. But no, she had had the sneer and everything. And it wasn’t like he was asking her to marry him or anything. He had just wondered if she’d be willing to go to dinner with him—dinner! Harmless, delicious free food of her choice so they could simply talk together. It wasn’t like he going to rub his zitty face all over hers or take advantage of her with his pussy powers. But the way she had looked at him expected as much.
“Yeah right, pizza face.”
The sentence kept ringing in his head. It was so different coming from her.
“Yeah right, pizza face.”
Aggravated, he yanked out his ipod and turned up the volume. Queen’s Killer Queen blared louder to the point he could feel his very eardrums vibrating. Thwacking the mop onto the men’s bathroom floor, he sung along angrily. He didn’t want to hear his own thoughts or her stupid voice. He didn’t even want to hear his own voice.
Sliding across the tiles, he thrummed his mop guitar with abandon. Of course, he must look like an idiot, but as far as he knew he was the only one in the building besides Bill, who was one of those happy sorts of people where dignity meant nothing.
“She’s a killer, quuueeen Gunther!” he sung, thwacking the mop aside. Suds were flying onto the stall doors.
Screw looking like an idiot.
Singing was one of his few avenues of release. His wonderful mother had only wished that her son would have at least a beautiful tenor voice in the belief that that was all a man needed in this world to attract the opposite sex. Just goes to show that mommies don’t know everything, as he was six foot tall, zitty, geeky prime example of that. Senior in high school and never had a date, and not for a lack of trying.
The thought made him turn the ipod, if possible, even louder. It was because of this he didn’t hear Bill yelling at him from the doorway. It wasn’t till the fat man stomped into his mopping path that he stopped. Sighing, Jake popped out his ear buds.
“What?” he snapped.
The security guard’s puffy grey eyebrows rose like storm clouds. “Oh? Going to have attitude with me, now?”
“Not now, Bill, I’ve had a god awful day.”
“I take it didn’t work out with blondie?”
“Her name is Sophia, and no, it didn’t, now will you just tell me what you want so I can finish?”
“You mean so you can get back to hollering your Queen?”
He gave the old guard his best teenage scowl. Bill just smirked and reached into his breast pocket.
“I was actually hoping to make your day a bit better,” he said as he pulled out an unopened ring pop wrapper.
Against his will, Jake’s mouth twitched into an unwilling smile as Bill swung the crinkled candy in front of him. His grey eyes sparkled.
“Come on, kid. You know you want it.”
“You’re freaking Satan, you know that?” But Jake took the ring pop with a wide smile.
“What your mom don’t know won’t hurt her. It’s not like I’m slipping you drugs or anything.”
“Yeah, but sugar’s suppose to be bad for my skin. Makes it worse or sumpthan.”
Bill rolled his eyes as he set his pudgy fists on his hips. “I hate to say this, but kid, the only thing that would make your complexion any better is to tear it off and give you a new one, and that red hair of yours don’t help. I doubt one little sucker is going to make it worse.”
Jake raised an eyebrow as he tore out the ring pop. “Oh? Now you’ve done it. Challenge accepted. Tomorrow, round this time, I’m going to come in zitzilla.”
“Yeah yeah, just don’t go scaring the fish. Guess I better get back to duty.” He paused right before the walkway out of the bathroom to look back at him with an entreating look. “And is it possible you could sing that one Beetles song tonight?”
“Sure sure,” said the young janitor, waving his hand, “I’ll be your radio. Now let me finish my song.”
Bill nodded once before waddling out. Jake smiled after him as he brushed his ginger hair away from his face. Ring pop in his mouth, ear buds back in place, he finished up the men’s bathroom and rolled up to continue his wash of the hall.
Outside of the bleaching green-white tiles of the bathroom the world glowed with the eerie blue light of the tanks. Water reflections rippled across the floor, broken only by shadows of fish floating by. He stopped for a moment to watch a particularly large coral fish, splashed with electric blues and yellows, pass by without a glance in his direction. If only people could be as unfazed by his face as fish were. Rerolling up his sleeves, he continued on to where he left off. As he smacked his mop back down, he switched to Beetles on his ipod and started to sing along to the black floor between licks of ring pop.
It was hard to tell himself the usual things to help himself feel better, now that it was Sophia that had said those things. There were the usual: ‘it doesn’t matter what those hormonal, stupid jerks think,’ or ‘how my face is isn’t going to decide how successful I am in life ’and,‘ my acne will get better someday, and then all this will be behind me.’ Maybe it was because she seemed so nice or so unprejudiced…or maybe it was because he just really like her. There had been so much to admire: her determination, her beauty, her talent, her intelligence. He had just wanted to know what kind of person was behind those big blue eyes of hers. That’s all. He had liked her enough that, even if she didn’t want to be his girlfriend, he would’ve been happy just having the chance to know her.
And then she had turned him down like that. She didn’t have to be so harsh. A simple no would’ve sufficed. It wasn’t like he was a complete loser.
…who was he kidding? Loser was his middle name.
His back hit the door to the back section of the aquarium. He had saved this room for last in this hall for a reason. Bill had told him there’d been a lot of hustle in there today, which translated into loads of muddy footprints to clean up, spilled water, and who knows what else. Sticking his ring pop between his teeth, now licked down to a drop of candy sin on its frame, he bopped the door open and shoved his ugly yellow bucket through, splashing dirty water on the linoleum.
He was thinking up his attack plan for finding new water for his mop when he finally took noticed of the huge, lone tank in the room. Usually the tank was reserved for special specimens, such as coelacanths or funny colored dolphins. Since the day he had started working, thought it had been dark, empty, and closed off by curtains. But tonight the curtains were gone and the same blue glow of the water lit up the rest of the room. Fake sea plants flickered in an imaginary current. Curious, he pushed his bucket over and peered into the tank. After a good five minutes, all he could glen was walls of fake rock and plastic plants. If there were anything in this tank, it was hidden in a small, shallow cave in the lower corner of the tank. He finally found the plaque explaining what was inside on the far side of the tank. What he read made him stare.
Merperson: Thought only to exist in legends around the world until now. Before, merpeople, or more importantly mermaids, were surrounded with myths related to the sirens, who would sing men to their death in Greek Mythology, atypically the Odyssey. Much is still unknown about the reality of merpeople, for they are particularly shy and rare. Only three live specimens have been caught up to this date, one of which died shortly after capture. As far as scientists can tell, merpeople are of minimal intelligence, like unto the average chimpanzee, and—
Jake stopped there, having already turned and ran out the door. He ignored the wet floors and sprinted down the hall, plastic ring forgotten on his finger.
“Bill! Bill!” he cried.
The fat man stumbled out from behind his desk as the teenager bowled around the corner, eyes wide.
“What is it, boy? Intruders? Shark ate one of their own again?”
Jake had to take a craving gasp for breath before he beamed in excitement. “You’ve got to see this, Bill. The old fogie thinks he’s got a mermaid in that tank. There’s a plaque and everything!”
For a moment, the older man just blinked at him. Then his face went slack and he looked up to the ceiling, as though praying.
“Don’t tell me,” he sighed, “that you got me all worked up just for some weird exhibit? Fool boy, nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Oh, stop complaining, it’s healthy for your heart to get some exercise now and then. I doubt the rest of you do. Come on back, I want to know what you think of it.”
“I can already tell you what I think of it, and it’s that I think your jumping the horse. You know there’s fish that have often been mistaken for mermaid. That’s probably what they are showing and are calling it a mermaid to attract attention before breaking it to the crowd what it really is.”
Jake stared at him, shoulders slack. “But—“
“But but, what?”
“But there’s…there’s a plaque talking about mermaids and everything. It said three live specimens have been found so far, and they didn’t even mention the dead ones.”
“Like I said—attract attention. Did you see what was in there?”
“Even better. Tell someone mermaids are in there when there’s nothing at all. That, or they’ll probably drop some chick with a fake tail in when they open the exhibit.”
“But, that’s so stupid, why would they do something like that?”
“Beats me. Think I did hear some rumors of Bram being hard pressed for cash at the moment. Maybe that’s why. Now buzz off and finish your work, kid. I’m mad at you.”
Jake rolled his eyes. “I’ll be cleaning up around the big tank then, I guess.”
The graying man gave the younger a significant look as he hoisted his wide bottom back onto his guard stool. “You gonna keep with the Beetles?”
“Sure,” said Jake, with a tinge of exasperated sarcasm, “any other requests?”
Jake tried really hard not to smile. Bill was lucky that he knew these old folk songs in the first place. But, shifting his fingers, he remembered the ring pop among with many other favors Bill had done for him, and it warmed his smile.
“Sure, Bill. Sorry you got such a boring job you have to ask a seventeen year old kid to sing to you for entertainment. Who ever heard of that? I think it’s still stupid they don’t let you have a radio.”
“You got a good voice for the songs, kid. Not surprising to me at all. Besides, good memories.”
“Makes you feel young again.” Jake said gruffly, mocking an older man’s voice.
Bill just gave him one of his looks, both annoyed and fond at the same time.
Back down the long east hall and into the big tank room, he stared back into the water, hoping to see something in the dark hole of the man made cave. He hadn’t noticed it before, but his chest felt oddly chilled and his heart pounded loudly. Had he actually gotten excited? Didn’t he know better that mermaids weren’t real? Except maybe in Disney and little girl’s imaginations, that is. At this thought he snorted, took hold of his mop again, and pushed it to the back where he was sure to find a facet of sorts in the rooms behind the tank.
Sure enough, it was filled with various tank cleaners and spare mops. Guided by the glow of the tank (he didn’t want to bother taking out his keys to turn on the lights), he emptied out his bucket and refilled it with cleaner and water. He straightened and stretched as he waited for the bucket to fill.
Just then, the shadow of something large broke the rippling reflections of the water. He whirled around, breath catching just a bit. What kind of fish could be so easily mistaken for a mermaid?
But all he could see was water.
Brow furrowed, he turned back just in time to turn off the water before his bucket was overfilled. He hummed John Denver songs, shuffling through his ipod for the right one to start with. If there was one thing he didn’t mind about Bill, it was his taste in music.